Leonard Cohen: Under Review 1934 – 1977 (DVD Music
B- Sound: B- Extras: C Film: B
singer-songwriters have been as influential as Leonard Cohen yet managed to
stay in relative obscurity. Artists of many genres refer to Cohen as an
inspiration, and several tribute albums featuring high-profile acts have
appeared. Yet his name is still mostly
unknown, even to people who listen to a lot of music. It’s odd for a musician whose body of work
spans over forty years.
Leonard Cohen: Under Review
covers roughly the first half of his career. Born in Canada in 1934, Cohen had a decent
degree of success as a writer long before he even considered music as a
vocation. He was a regular at poetry
readings throughout Canada in the heyday of the Beat movement. Evincing a strong work ethic that continues to
this day, Cohen was never content to simply write whatever came to mind. He would spend months finding the right word,
often discarding hundreds of lines of poetry that he considered failures. He published a collection of poetry, Flowers For Hitler, and two novels, The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers to mixed reviews.
learned to play guitar early, he decided to try his hand at songwriting. On his way to Nashville to break into country
music he was waylaid in New York City by Andy Warhol’s Factory, and more
importantly, the Greenwich Village Folk music scene. Dylan was just beginning to explode, and the
market was ripe for intelligent, quirky poetry set to music. Cohen was a natural match.
voice is low and resonant, his lyrics thoughtful, deep, and emotionally
personal. Neither proved to be very
radio friendly. Still, sales and force
of personality allowed Cohen¹s career to, if not flourish then at least continue.
DVD covers the recording of each of Cohen’s first six albums in some
detail. Interviews with many of the
musicians and producers bring the time period and the process to life. Archival footage interviews with and
performances by Cohen round out the documentary feel here. Time is spent tracing the development of
Cohen¹s sound, from the sparse folk music feel of his brilliant debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen through the
richer orchestration of New Skin For the
the film ends with a discussion of Death
of a Ladies’ Man. Over-produced by
Phil Spector, this remains one of Cohen’s most unlistenable albums. Cohen himself hated the final album, calling
the production (in an interview included on the DVD), “grotesque.”
career continued well beyond 1977. His
signature album, I’m Your Man didn’t
appear until a decade later, and Cohen continues to be a vital artist today. As a fan, I can only hope there is a second
volume of the Under Review series.
- Wayne Wise